Thursday, November 27, 2008

Democracy is bad for the economy.


Canada's elections are messy and expensive (and recently, pointless). They're nowhere near as messy, expensive and pointless as the last three US elections, but they're pretty bad.

For one thing, in the last election, we had twenty-one registered parties. Yeah. Twenty-one. One was a joke, but the argument has been made that they all are (there is some truth to that). In most ridings, the most you'll see is six or seven. But I'll bet there was a place in Canada where the ballot had two sides.

Our parties have also learned the worst possible lessons from elections in the past and in other locations. Treat the voter like mushrooms:
  • Our current leading party, the Cons, never once gave a coherent policy plank, intelligible election promise or pointed to a past success (except for a successful cut to the GST, which, while successfully cut, has not apparently had any effect on anything, except the operating capital of the government). At least, not while I was paying attention. The other parties were not much better, but the Cons were the worst. They ran on Stephane Dion's funny accent and carbon tax. They occasionally hinted that they had a plan to deal with the rapidly approaching economic clusterfuck, but they never told us what it was (still haven't).
  • The Liberals ran like they didn't really want to be there, and they were only killing time until they could scapegoat one intellectual idealist and replace him with either an intellectual or an idealist.
  • Jack Layton ran on Harper's pact with Satan. Steve is an evil guy (not like supernatural evil, but callous and vaguely sociopathic), and while I like to bash him, I like to temper my vitriol with an occasional suggestion.
  • The Bloc, while it has some interesting policies, also ran on Harper's pact with Satan. Unfortunately, they only run in Quebec, which is an odd thing for a national party to do. They'd probably fair pretty well in places like Newfoundland, where their entry into the Dominion was questionable, and New Brunswick, which also has a large francophone population.
  • The Greens ran on the Chicken Little platform spiced up with the Harper-Satan combo. I believe in the platform, and I believe that the sky is really falling, but unfortunately, we're easily dismissed, partially because if things are as bad as I fear, then we're probably fucked anyway, and sustainability is hard. And also probably because we aren't very good at the mudslinging.
What we had was a little over a month of insults, name-calling and bullshit, cleverly disguised by neckties (though Harper stayed away from the necktie, perhaps as a double-distraction), indignation, and resignation that politics has sunk so low in Canada. But what are you gonna do? Sex sells, but fear really moves product.

The thing is that spreading all these non-platforms, inciting all this fear and fostering all this paranoia costs money. So the government reimburses our parties for some of their expenses if they reach a certain threshold of votes, and they pay you $1.95/vote/year, so you can keep the machine going in order to fund your next round of vapid soundbites.

Last month we spent nearly $300 million on an election, winding up with a slightly strengthened Con party in charge (I have no fucking idea how, we just did.). We used airtime, nonrenewable resources, horrifying amounts of trees, and millions upon millions of volunteer hours and casual labour, and we are slightly worse off than we were before. The economy continues to flop about like a wounded animal,and we still have no real plan to deal with that. However, it's time to tighten our belts, people.

Let's cut out that stipend to the parties.

It'll save nearly $30 million.

The Cons pissed away the surplus that they were left with three years ago by the Liberals. So we can't increase government spending without going into a deficit, which, as we have seen in countless instances around the world, conservatives just don't do. There are billions of dollars going to Bay Street and billions of dollars in loans going to automakers (maybe). There are billions of dollars in corporate welfare, and lots and lots of tax refunds for oil companies, but the electoral process really needs to tighten up.

You may be losing your job while CEOs eat caviar off of $1000/night call girls. You may be losing your pensions while upper management collects bonuses the size of lottery jackpots. You may be losing your car while cabinet ministers have a limo and driver. You may be losing your house while banks record slightly less than record breaking profits. But don't worry, those asshole politicians are losing their gravy train. That's right, no more fat in the electoral process.

Set aside that this is petty and shitty for a minute. Try to forget that Finance Minister Flaherty is the man who constantly reassured Ontario that he could cut taxes, increase spending and balance the budget. Ignore for a minute that on paper this hurts the Cons most because theys stand to lose the most. I don't even want to talk about how anti-democratic this is.

I want you to focus on the fact that this is blatantly political, an obvious cheap shot, and deeply, deeply cynical.

The Cons have no plan for recovery. To those of us paying attention, Flaherty has no credibility as a finance minister. They have no wiggle room, having spent it all. Their ideology has just proven to be corrosive to the economic system they claim to worship. They just lost their best friend next door. They bet they could win an election before we copped to the recession, but we were paying attention (though they did win). Our resource-based economy, which is supposed to be sort of recession-proof, starts to stutter when demand for resources declines. Canadians are a little more choosy with out boogey-men, too, so you can't blame the gays or the atheists for this one. But you know who you can blame? The one group that everyone in Canada distrusts, dislikes and disapproves of? I mean, besides Americans?

Politicians. Those evil, nasty, parasitic politicians.

A recurring theme on this blog is my constant incredulity. I can't believe the gullibility of the electorate. I can't believe the chutzpah of the neocons. I can't believe the hypocrisy of those on the religious right. I can't believe the resistance of the general population to the changes that are necessary.

And here, I can't believe the sheer ballsiness of a politician implying that politicians are to blame for this mess. They are, of course, partly responsible, but it takes a special kind of balls to come right out and say it, even though he isn't really. And I can't believe that he thinks it'll work.

I also can't believe that it probably will.

He's not saying this is flawed economic policy. He's not saying it's a flawed tax system. He's not saying it's a symptom of deeper societal problems. He's not even saying that the idiots who persisted in making shitty products or approving shitty loans or creating money out of nothing are at fault. He's not saying that rebates and incentives enabled those idiots to ignore market realities.

He's implying that it's the electoral system that is at fault, and the elected (and unelected) need to pay for it. And many voters are gonna buy it.

The electoral system is deeply flawed. The party system is deply flawed. The election funding rules are deeply flawed. There are ways to fix this. Maybe. I don't think this is it. This simply cuts off small parties, and will wither many of them away. This will destroy the Liberal Party (probably the real motive). This will hamper the NDP and the Bloc (also nice perks).

This will not stimulate the economy. This will do nothing to prevent the next recession. This will not broaden our economy, to make it more recession-proof. This will not prevent one forclosure, one job loss, one trip to the food bank, or one stress-induced heart attack or stroke, or one fight over the dinner table.

It's obvious, it's cheap and it's transparent.

It'll probably work.

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Anonymous said...

What's worse is that although we can elect our representatives, we can't elect our leaders. If you want to talk about democracy, abolish the monarchy first; nationally and provincially.